There may be a thousand reasons why lesbians love the thrill of a straight girl.
There may be a thousand reasons why lesbians love the thrill of a straight girl. Maybe women who chase women possess the same rabid ego we despise in straight men, the same ego that makes a person go giddy at the thought of being “the first” for the straight girl in question. The heterosexual terrain of her flesh, untouched by other dyke hands, smacks of the virgin narrative. Who wouldn’t want to be “the first”? Who doesn’t like what feels like a conquest? A win?
Maybe it is the thrill of conversion – and that is only if any such crossover can be deemed a conversion. Who is to say such conquests were not sleeper-lesbians, just waiting for the right moment to awaken? I suppose, though, through the right lens, the process could be described as evangelical, this business of meeting, and courting and having a woman decide to jump the heterosexual ship to be with you (even if it is temporary). More often than not, the crossover is accompanied by confessions of, “I’ve never done this with anyone before.” Or, “I’m not into women, there’s just something about you that makes me want to try this.” Either way, you are the chosen one, the messiah, the mandate that pulls her, magnetic, toward her most hidden desires.
Or maybe we are just like everyone else, desperately looking everywhere for love. Whatever it is, the phenomenon excites us; this lascivious dance between the narrow spaces occupied by the women the world wishes we were and the women who sometimes wish they were us keeps the tradition of lesbians chasing straight alive and flourishing. Yes, we crack mean jokes about it – who wants to invest in a relationship with a LUG? (Lesbian until graduation.) And, yes, we complain about the true cost of cavorting with the bi-curious – the eventual sexual frustration (often, our sexual favours are not returned during lovemaking). But we all do it, over and over and over again, until something happens that makes us say, no more. And this resolution can last for quite a while – years even – until the next dangerously intriguing straight woman struts by, flirting at us, daring us to make her cross the line.
So, invariably, at the average lesbian gathering, the conversation makes its way round to the trauma the dyke heart endures, the collective agony of desiring the almost gay. Most lesbians have a coming of age story about how they survived such a woman. Occasionally, a couple in the room will confess that their 10-year-long, committed, exclusive relationship was born of such a pairing, but too many stories end with the same sad summary. Yes, she went back to her boyfriend. Or, she is married now, to a lovely feminist man, with a baby, or two, on the way.
My story is no different. And while I am the first to ask for the gory details from other women, I am the last to fess up to the rapturous, but futile years I spent chasing women who identified as straight. My excuse is that I was in my 20s in college, in Jamaica (arguably one of the most homophobic places in the world) and just coming out. Frustrated with the cloak and dagger reality of LGBT life in Jamaica, in a moment of madness, or a rare stroke of genius, I walked into the middle of the courtyard and made a public announcement, “Yes. I would just like to say, out loud, the thing I know everybody has been talking about. Yes. I am a lesbian. Yes. I like girls. Now it’s out there. So now, nobody has to be all strange about it.”
After that grandstanding, no one about whom there was an ounce of homosexual suspicion wanted to be seen with me, much less date me. I like to tell people I had no choice, that to forge new ground I had to go into the thick and frightening forest of the straight girls. I spent about two months studying the lay of the land. I noticed the girls who glanced at me when they thought I wasn’t looking. I also took note of how many of them blushed when they caught me looking. I was particularly interested in the ones who seemed to thrive on making me look, but would turn away if it seemed as if I might approach them. Something about the push and pull created a sexual tension I enjoyed.
There was one girl I liked more than the others. I watched her all the time, looking for a way to approach her. I had no idea how this sort of thing was done. I had almost given up when I found her crying in the Philosophy section of the library. I sat on the floor next to her and just waited. It broke my heart to see her sobbing. I wanted to make her stop. I didn’t think about it, I just placed my hand between her shoulder blades and kept it there. She wept for another hour before she turned to face me. My hand was still on her back, so it felt natural to pull her closer. I only intended to hug her, but she leaned in and kissed me. For the next six months we did everything together. We became Thelma and Louise. I knew we’d be together for ever.
Then one night while we were in bed spooning, her ex-boyfriend (who was responsible for the philosophical breakdown in the library) called and made a convincing argument for reconciliation. She turned over and gently told me she was still in love with him. Plus, she was beginning to tire of the clandestine nature of our relationship. She wasn’t meant for this kind of life. She wanted a house and children one day.
I didn’t give her a hard time when she told me her boyfriend was uncomfortable with her seeing me, even as friends. It hurt that she didn’t think twice about abandoning the space we shared, but I knew it was only his error that had given me that time with her. She wasn’t really a lesbian, even if she really wasn’t all the way straight. She was my first not-really-straight girl tryst, but she would not be my last.
Soon, word got around that I was open to girls who had a yen for experimentation. I spent many evenings and many cracks of dawn in the narrow beds jammed against the white walls of the tiny dorm rooms, listening to Sarah McLachlan with some girl I hoped would be moved enough to actually become my girlfriend. None of them was moved enough, or had courage enough. It was definitely a bit of a trip to lie naked with these women by night and be ignored by them in the light of day. Even now, I still get a little excited about the memories before the anger and shame and angst come rushing back.
Twenty years later, I still flirt with these straight-but-not-so-straight women. Only now I know the limitations of such insanities. The trick to surviving the chase is not to take yourself, or the interaction, too seriously. I always choose an opening line that borders on the absurd. “I like the way you make that pink push-up bra look intellectual” – and if she is the kind of sexually ambiguous woman that likes this kind of attention, she will laugh. And if you listen well, you can tell if she is likely to play or nay. It is not because she laughs that indicates her willingness, but how she laughs. It has to be a sort of curious amusement that comes from her eyes and travels to her mouth. Never mention that her skin is beautiful or that her legs go on for ever. Remember, she navigates that sort of cheese from straight men all day long.
Never, ever overtly refer to the electricity crackling between the two of you. Courting the bi-curious requires the skill of restraint. There is a sort of informal manual for lesbian chasing not-so-straight. And the first rule is, you have to be platonic first. Girls who are not-so-straight but identify as straight – even when they admit to being attracted to women – don’t want that interest to seem conscious. It’s always better if it seems like an impulsive adventure, a thing that just happened. Which means you always begin as nothing more than a friend. No compliments, no kissing, no holding hands, no longing looks. No I miss you phone calls. No yearning. Just casual chitchat girly-girl conversations. You should laugh when she confides in having a crush on some boy. Offer advice on what she should wear when she goes to see him. Be supportive of her relationship. Become her friend, first. Work very hard at being her very best friend. Always remember, you’re only her friend. You are not allowed to bend that rule for at least three months.
If you really want a shot at getting close to this woman, you have to wait until there is a crack in the lack of respect her boyfriend has for her. Watch for when he is late, or disrespectful, or inconsiderate. Casually mention that you would never treat a woman like that. Reinforce how she deserves so much better. Store the details. Then wait for him to mess up big. Then, you can tell her that you would never put up with that from a man. Quickly apologise for saying that you think she shouldn’t either. Resist the urge to stroke her brows as her doubts about him begin to fester.
Even as she responds, avoid talk of sex. There will be time enough to expound on how lesbian sex has a way of being outrageous – what with the use of bedposts, and clingfilm and handcuffs with fur in the middle. It’s a no-no to mention dildos. Do not raise the issue of multi-speed vibrators. Wait until she tells you her relationship with the boy is over. Hug her gently. Empty your head of thoughts of pressing her back to the ground. Straight girls are not interested in swallowing the whole lesbian syllabus in the first class. If she pulls away, let her. This dalliance is for those who possess inhuman amounts of patience. So resist the urge to go after her. Silence the arguments developing in your head. Do not say another word to her. Between you and me, more often than not, if you give her the space, she will come back. I’m not sure how long she will stay. But if you are a lesbian chasing not-so-straight girls, I’m assuming you are willing to risk falling for a woman who may not be your life partner.
Otherwise, you should go in with only the intention to have fun, maybe learn a thing or two. Maybe you will teach her something new about gender-bending and multiple orgasms. Maybe the experience will teach you something about loss. But you must remember that most straight-not-so-straight girls are often unwilling to make the dive into lesbian sexuality permanent. Sure, some are moved enough to dip a hand all the way in, but most of them are only experimenting with the tide. And though most of us dykes enjoy the time of day they choose to give us, in our heart of hearts, we know that such girls require too much effort, and that the costs are often too high. And in the already complicated lives of most adult lesbians, the heady excitement of a short thrill isn’t worth the long-term emotional expense.
Originally published in the Guardian